It’s that time of year again: overcrowded grocery stores and shopping malls, the din of Christmas muzak, shoppers and screaming children piercing the air. Manufactured aromas of pine and cinnamon accosting the olfactory system. A non-stop litany of black Friday commercials hammering the airwaves and, playing “dodge the careless driver” as you try to negotiate a shopping cart (with one wobbly wheel) full of groceries to the car without getting run over. What’s not to love? For most chefs, the holidays mean 16-hour days behind the stove and zero family time. Occasionally (and by “occasionally”, I mean “once a decade”), I do like to surprise my family by actually having my holiday shopping done on time and celebrating. But most years, my family is used to a phone call or an email excusing my absence from the Christmas table and letting them know that their presents will be a week late.
Humbugging aside, and regardless of whether I’m working or not, Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite meals to prepare. Everyone is brimming with excitement over the food, even the kids. Nobody is worrying about calorie count or food sensitivities. The drinks are flowing and the buzz can be felt in the kitchen. This year, I’m very excited to have my first Thanksgiving off since 2006. This doesn’t mean that I won’t be cooking, I certainly will. But for the first time in seven years, I’ll actually be able to sit and eat too.
Last year, I was faced with the daunting task of cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 80 people. I had 10 12-pound turkeys and 3 ovens. To avoid serving dry, overcooked or re-heated birds, I really had to strategize. Even brining can’t save a turkey from the effects of reheating – but 10 birds require 10 ovens, for a very long cooking time. I was in a quandary. Breaking down the turkeys before cooking them seemed like the only feasible option – which, of course, led me to the natural conclusion of cooking the legs confit. I mean, duh. Anyone would’ve thought of that, right?
With the help of my trusty kitchen assistant, we quartered the turkeys, made an herb butter to go under the skin of the breasts and then buried the legs under a snowy mound of kosher salt and herbs and refrigerated them overnight. As a bonus, we had plenty of backbones and necks to roast off for gravy. The next morning, after rinsing and drying the legs, we slow cooked them in six gallons of olive oil. Then, just before service, we roasted the breasts. The legs were still warm even after several hours in the the oil, they hardly needed re-heating at all. And, with the turkeys quartered, we were able to cook all 10 turkeys between 2 industrial ovens. A miraculous feat! Afterwards, guests were raving and the kitchen was inundated with people asking how we cooked the turkeys. The next day, I received a note from the boss saying that it was the best Thanksgiving ever. Mission accomplished.
This year, Pace Webb, fellow chef and the tastemaker behind the catering company Taste of Pace, has invited me for a turkey throw down with a bunch of stray chefs and bartenders at her event-space in the arts district in DTLA. She’s asked that I make the turkeys. You can bet that I’ll be doing them confit. I don’t think I’ll ever cook a turkey any other way again. And this year, I’ll be able to sit down and eat. I can’t wait! If you’re still deciding on how to cook your turkeys, why don’t you give turkey confit a try? Confit is a pretty fail-safe method of cooking and you’re guaranteed a juicy bird! Scroll down for my recipe!
- 2 12-pound turkeys, quartered (backbone & wishbone removed)
- 4 Turkey legs
- Kosher salt
- 1 bunch thyme
- 1/4 cup juniper berries
- 1/8 cup black peppercorns
- 4 bay leaves
- 20 cloves of garlic, whole
- About 4-6 quarts of olive oil or duck fat, warmed
- 4 Turkey Breasts, bone-in
- 1 cup of butter, softened
- 2 shallots, minced
- 2 tablespoon each: thyme, parsley, tarragon
- zest of 1 lemon
- Sprinkle a heavy layer of salt on a large, glass baking dish.
- Sprinkle with half of the thyme, juniper, black peppercorns and bay leaves.
- Place the turkey legs on top, add remaining herbs and spices and sprinkle with another heavy layer of salt.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- Place butter in a food processor with shallots, thyme and lemon zest.
- Process until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, Fahrenheit.
- Remove turkey legs from the refrigerator. Rinse all of the salt off and pat dry.
- Place legs in a medium roasting pan.
- Add bay leaves, whole cloves of garlic and enough warm olive oil or duck fat to submerge the legs.
- Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake until legs are very tender, about 3 hours. The garlic cloves will be soft and creamer - you'll want to serve those along with the turkey!
- Turkey legs can be stored several days in the fat - and they will only get better!
- Before serving, heat oven to 500 degrees. Remove the turkey legs from the fat. Place on a baking sheet and roast until brown and crisp, about 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Soften the herb butter.
- Using your fingers, gently loosen the skin of the turkey breasts and rub about 1/4 cup of butter under the skin of each breast.
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Place breasts on a roasting pan and bake until the juices run clear or meat thermometer inserted into thickest part registers 170 degrees, about 45 minutes to 1 hour (depending on size).
- Remove from oven, tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Slice and serve!
- EDIT: I just received a message from a reader who made turkey confit in a crockpot! An even better way to save on oven space!